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Creating a legacy
Growing self-awareness is crucial for any player, says Flower
Sky Sports magazine caught up with England head coach Andy Flower at a 'Coaching the Coaches' training session - part of the Sky Sports ECB Coach Education Programme.
He started by explaining how he landed the top job...
Being bowled out for 51 by West Indies was a turning point for me. I was interim coach at the time. It was my first Test match in charge, it was Andrew Strauss' first Test match as permanent captain. And we'd been bowled out for 51. What it did for us was it offered the opportunity to be very honest with one another. I think we were.
It wasn't easy, as those sort of conversations and situations are never easy, but it did give us an opportunity, a base from which to work. I knew the position of coach was open. I was consciously assessing whether I could actually make a difference or not. I was assessing my relationship with Strauss and the rest of the team. On that basis I wanted to give it a go.
I only retired from playing in 2006. A lot of the boys knew me not just as a coach but as a player. There are fine coaches in all forms of sport that weren't necessarily fine players, but it does give you a little foot in the door in conversation. It's a much more comfortable place to start.
In junior school, I had three coaches. Peter Kirsten, who was an ex-Springbok cricketer, Mike Procter and Robin Jackman. Not a bad set.
When I batted I tried to analyse my game. I tried to maximise the instinctive side, too, in an effort to reach any potential I had. I try to pass on any lessons I learned doing that.
The very best players don't always make the best coaches. There's truth in the idea that what they do is instinctive in some cases. But there are easier ways to earn a living, too. And being under the weight of expectation and scrutiny after a lengthy playing career where guys are watched and judged, I think a lot of players have just had enough of it. Going into a coaching role and extending that period of judgment is something that doesn't feel right to them.
When I'm working one to one with someone, I'm trying primarily to grow their self-awareness. I've always had a belief that the more self-aware you are, and the more you understand the way you score runs - or if you're a bowler, create pressure - then the better your chance of success. With the team, I've got another job managing the group - we have quite a substantial coaching and management set-up - and then the players. That means making sure there are open lines of communication. Making sure there is some team direction, not necessarily perfect harmony, but definitely a great hunger shared by all of us to advance as a side.
I remember Peter Moores giving me 'Moneyball' (an influential book about a baseball team turned around by the use of statistics) to read. It opened my eyes to a different way of looking at stats. I don't think we've tapped into the potential of how stats could drive our strategy. If you look at some of the American sports that have been around for a long time, they've been well analysed. In cricket, there's a lot of scope for better analysis, and the use of some of the information from that analysis to drive the way we attack and defend. Peter Moores and Hugh Morris built up a bigger analysis department in the ECB. They're doing some really interesting work.
I don't want to go into huge detail on that. Some of what we think we know, we don't want others to know. There has been some interesting stuff on Twenty20. The easiest way to describe it is in contrast to 50-over cricket. Singles become very important in 50-over cricket and there was a stat at one time that the sides that scored the most singles tended to win the games. In T20 cricket, sides that score the most singles only win 30 per cent of the games. That's an example of how the analysis can drive you to play.
Players are constantly trying to find an easier way of doing things. They're always trying to get short cuts. They are trying to find any way to win. Often the men on the coal face are the guys that can innovate. That's how I see it. You do get some really innovative coaches, Peter Moores being an obvious one, but a lot originates from the players.
We're right in the mix so we'd like to think we're at the forefront of any changes. We watch a lot of international cricket other than our own and we talk a lot with the players - the ones that go to the IPL and who are in contact with other international players. Test cricket, historically, has held most importance but with the ECB goals of winning ICC tournaments we're placing huge emphasis on limited-overs cricket.
I get easily as much pleasure in some of the success we've had with this team as I ever got as a player, to be honest. It's really fulfilling and is some ways more challenging. As a player, if you're self sufficient, you've got two responsibilities, maximising your value to the team and working harmoniously within it. As a coach you are only trying to give, you're trying to give to players individually and you're trying to mould a winning unit. The challenge is fascinating. There's something different every day, a whole variety of responsibilities and challenges that are constantly changing.
I'd love to create some sort of legacy for cricket in this country. I'm involved in the ECB's Coaching the Coaches scheme This programme is delivering more coaches and better quality coaching. This means cricketers from schools to counties can now enjoy their cricket under the supervision of great quality coaching that can only benefit the next generation of England players.
I'll stay away from the subject of Zimbabwe at the moment. I'll tell you why. There's a very interesting few months coming up and I sit on the MCC World Cricket Committee and I'm going to be talking to them about it. At the moment I'm a little unsure where I stand on the topic.